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What will the incinerator cost us?

Due to the use of credit default swops and other funding instruments by UBB, instruments which almost caused the implosion of the entire banking system, a ‘fixed’ cost cannot be calculated until the contract with UBB is actually cancelled. Since interest rates vary day to day – so will the cancellation cost. If this motion is passed then I suggest the 1st of September is taken as the date to calculate from. As such, the figure will be a useful calculation of the actual figure.

This motion refers to Council’s contract with UBB, its reach however goes further. As more and more services funded by the public are delivered by contracted organisations, so the level of oversight available to councillors and ultimately the public is diminished – due to ‘commercial confidentiality’. Some of these might be re-titled ‘cock-up confidentiality’ clauses, such is the amount and scale of information being with-held by their use.

It is as if the householders of Gloucestershire, reasonably asking what they are paying for – how much, how many, can we cancel – are told ‘shut up’ and then ‘here is your bill’. Once, we as members could ask officers – and had an expectation, ultimately a right to be provided with the information requested. No more.

How – can it be acceptable that those paying the bill are refused, – that their representatives are refused information on what is being paid for? We as members are bound on being elected, to keep some information confidential. Accepting this we should have the information to undertake our duties, and we should have the information required to understand the ramifications of our actions.

What gate-fees have we agreed to pay UBB over the next 25 years – we are not allowed to know.

What is the cost of laying a pipe to enable a heat off take from the Incinerator – we are not allowed to know – (but I can tell you it’s too expensive to install and not economically viable because that bit wasn’t redacted).

If councillors passed a motion instructing cabinet to cancel the incinerator at Javelin Park – what would be the financial implications? Well guess what – we are not allowed to know.

We were however given the cost of planning delay for a year, but not the public – which by May 2015 when Mr Pickles might make his decision will be the same amount as the projected savings over business as usual. That’s right planning delay wiping out the projected savings, in a matter of months. No wonder the contract is cock-up confidential.

The Deputy Leader of Labour group has publicly stated – SNJ 23rd Aug – that he wants to know the costs asked for in this motion, well this is his and his party’s chance to act and acquire them. If the Labour Party is actually opposed to a Mass Burn Incinerator at Javelin Park, if it actually want to know the costs, if it really is not ‘Tory-lite’ propping up a minority Tory administration it will support this motion – to abstain or vote against will be a tacit admission of support, not only for the administration but also for privatisation and what the entire planning committee recognised was a blot on the Cotswold ANOB.

There is an argument that the information requested in this motion should be withheld from Councillors, because to release it would be damaging to the Council. There are two issues here.

First that the merest hint of divulging information, of stepping even close to the boundary of ‘commercial confidentiality, of giving our commercial partners the slightest whiff of opportunity to undertake legal action against us must be avoided and outweighs all public interest and transparency concerns. Our partners – so rapacious, so mercenary, so dangerous that we must not rouse them. Some choice of partner.

Second, the implication that the costs of rousing this dangerous beast, by giving member the cancellation cost, will be so vast that they will destabilise the council and impact on services. Is this true? Has a Conservative led administration, a risk adverse cabinet entered into a contract which is so potentially damaging if information in it is disclosed, that it must, whatever, be withheld. If this is true we should be told – and it begs the question what other unacceptable financial penalties are hidden in the redacted information, and who will any confidence in a leader who has overseen such a contract.

Norfolk & Glosshire claim to have followed DEFRA contract advice, Norfolk went public but Glos cannot. This does not make sense. Norfolk County Council were able to compare the costs of cancellation, £33M, with alternative operational costs and they concluded that cancellation was an economic option. We deserve the same information to be able to undertake a similar comparison.

It is our duty and responsibility to ask difficult questions – and if we believe that errors of judgement have occurred to point this out. How can we do this if the information we need is withheld? There are ample current examples in the media of the harm that occurs when difficult questions are not asked and information is unknown. We as the public’s representative have a right to ask and know what the money is being spent on – it is ultimately commonsense – those that pay the piper should know what tune is being played, not just the name of the piper.

A ‘wrecking motion’ in favour of continued secrecy was then proposed by Labour, supported by the Conservatives and carried. This coalition of opposites has been a feature of the County Council since it became a ‘no overall control’ authority in May 2013 and Labour secured its scrutiny committee chairmanships. This was Sarah’s response to the amendment:

“I am content to allow the public and my constituents in particular, to make their own judgement as to who has been irresponsible in the matter of this project, this contract and this motion”.

“Were we elected to support secretive government; deals that provide no scrutiny until it’s too late to make a difference? Well perhaps Conservatives think they were. I certainly don’t and I had hoped most other cllrs would share that view.”

“With economic regeneration decisions handed over to LEPs with no local democratic oversight and high value secret contracts for privatised services, cllrs should ask themselves why they are here.”

“This motion asks no more than the very basic information about the likely cost of abandoning a contract the majority of us do not want. If I or any cllr is naive about complex financial matters, it is for the appropriate officers to explain the situation in terms we can understand and ‘don’t worry your pretty little head’ won’t cut it. We, the members, are the council. We need to know what are our options and their financial implications; and we need to know if what has been agreed is so monstrous, that someone needs to be held accountable.” “At least one judge agrees with me as he has insisted that the unredacted contract is made available to the legal team representing Green Party campaigner Sasha Khan who has been granted a Judicial Review on the basis of the possibility that Croydon & Sutton & Viridor had a conflict of interest when signing a contract before planning permission was granted.

“So don’t be intimidated by those responsible for this mess. Please support the motion and reject the amendment.”

They didn’t.

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